Why are China's mines so dangerous?
- 7 October 2010
- From the section Business
China has introduced new regulations to improve safety in mining, and some will argue that moves towards better safety can not come too soon.
China's mines are dangerous by any standard. More than 2,600 Chinese miners died in accidents last year.
The country's safety record is far worse than that of other nations.
This is partly because China has the world's largest mining industry which inevitably makes the raw accident numbers look high.
But its mine safety record is also poor by measures, with the country accounting for 40% of global coal output but 80% of mining deaths around the world each year.
A Chinese miner is 100 times more likely to die in an accident than a miner in the US.
However, China's safety record is better than it was a few years ago.
As recently as 2004, more than 6,000 Chinese miners died in mining accidents - more than three times last year's level of fatalities.
Traditionally, mining was the single most dangerous occupation in most countries, not just China.
But around the world accident rates have been falling.
The trend has been particularly marked in wealthier nations. In the US, for example, mining is now rated as barely more dangerous than driving on the roads.
And there are fewer deaths in mining in the US than in either construction or agriculture.
But this does not mean that mining is a safe occupation. The figures suggest that even today about 10 Americans are dying every month in mining accidents.
Poorer countries have also seen the number of mining deaths come down.
India, which has the world's third largest coal output after China and the US, is a case in point.
In the year 2000, more than 200 miners died in Indian coal mine accidents.
By 2005, the figure was down to 35 deaths. This is the most recent year for which figures are available.
Open cast mines
Mining fatalities roughly correlate with a country's level of economic development, with accidents more common in poor nations than rich ones.
In wealthy Australia, for example, seven miners were killed in accidents in 2008, compared with 35 in middle-income Russia.
However, Russia's record - like that of most other countries- has greatly improved in recent years.
Safety is not simply linked to the level of GDP.
One reason why Australia's mines are relatively safe is that they are mostly open cast. Underground mines tend to be more dangerous than operations that involve scooping out minerals close to the surface.
There have been some serious mining accidents involving hundreds of deaths in recent years, but nothing to match the disasters of the past.
The world's worst coal mining accident took place in a part of China that was under Japanese occupation during World War II.
In that incident, 1,549 miners died after a coal dust explosion at Benxihu Colliery in Liaoning province in North Eastern China in April 1942.